Restaurants doing all they can during pandemic

PAULA NEUMAN

The restaurant business is very much a family affair for Jeremy Syrocki of Grosse Ile.

He was raised working in the restaurants of his father, chef Anthony Syrocki, including Syrocki’s in Illinois and Studebaker’s in Pennsylvania.

Jeremy earned a business degree from Oakland University, and although he didn’t pursue formal chef’s training, he grew up in the industry and he cooks — and cooks and cooks and cooks.

“I cook every single day somewhere,” he said.

He opened Truago, an upscale seafood and steak restaurant in Trenton, about five years ago.

Then about two years ago, Jeremy — with his brother Jeff and sister-in-law Christine — opened Major Biddle’s in Wyandotte, specializing in ribs, barbecue and comfort food such as meatloaf and lasagna, but also offering sandwiches, steaks and seafood.

And on Feb. 1, Jeremy and his Grosse Ile friends Chris Laura and Francis Brooks re-opened Lloyd’s Bar & Grill on Macomb Street of Grosse Ile, and have revamped it from stem to stern with help from Jeremy’s wife, Kristina.

“She has helped me design all the restaurants,” he said. “We do all the construction and design work ourselves. At Lloyd’s the whole interior is redone and we’re putting a big outdoor patio on, half-enclosed, kind of like Truago. We plan to put bike racks out front, too. We want it to be a community gathering place, where you go after the football game or the cheerleading competition — that family destination spot for the island.”

Lloyd’s offers more casual dining than Jeremy’s Trenton and Wyandotte restaurants. 

The bar’s menu includes house-made pizza, burgers, hoagies and a wide assortment of appetizers, entrees, soups and salads. Already, the bar is selling 50-100 pizzas a day, counting carry-out and dine-in sales, he said.

The pandemic and state-ordered shutdowns have not helped Michigan’s hospitality industry. 

The state’s restaurants first were shut down for indoor dining on March 16, 2020. That lasted until June 8, when the eateries were allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity. But when Covid case numbers surged over the summer and fall, the state again shut restaurants down for indoor dining on Nov. 18 across most of Michigan.

Now, as of Feb. 1, restaurants are allowed to open again for indoor dining but at 25 percent capacity up to 100 customers total and with many other restrictions.

Michigan restaurants that have survived so far — more than 2,000 have had to permanently close, according to the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association — are happy to welcome back their customers, but many owners wonder how long they can keep going.

Carry-outs helped Syrocki’s  restaurants through the first pandemic shutdown, but now that part of his business is about half what it was before, Jeremy said. So inside dining — limited now by the state to 25 percent of capacity — is very important.

Restaurant owners everywhere, especially those with family-owned eateries, are struggling to survive the pandemic shutdowns and limitations.

“We’re all doing the best we can to follow the rules and keep everybody safe,” he said. “Twenty-five percent is not enough to pay the bills — not even close.”

But he’s enthused about the future, and about serving the restaurants’ loyal customers and enticing new ones in the doors of all three eateries.

“I do all the menu planning,” Jeremy said. “I’m trying to make sure we’re not overlapping each other because the restaurants are so close to each other.”

All of the core recipes he uses are from his father.

“He’s retired now, but he was a chef for 50 years,” Jeremy said. “He actually works for me now in the summers. He’ll make soups and sauces, cut steaks and filets for me.”

And all three restaurants specialize in making almost everything on the menu from scratch.

“We’re hand-cutting our own steaks, pounding our own chicken,” Jeremy said. “We buy the best products we can buy, and that makes good products at the end.”

His children Brianna, 16, and Christian and Braydon, 14, also work in his restaurants.

It’s a family tradition, after all.

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